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Abandon Ship!: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster Hardcover – December 6, 2000
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In July 1945, the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis put in at the Pacific atoll of Tinian to deliver a rare cargo: several hundred pounds of uranium, the makings of the two atomic bombs that only a few weeks later would be dropped on Japan. Having discharged this duty, the Indianapolis made way for Guam, and thence for the Philippines, in waters that the high command had assured its captain were safe. En route, it crossed the path of a Japanese submarine, which fired six torpedoes and sank the cruiser, killing hundreds of sailors--some of whom were devoured by sharks--and leaving others to float in the open ocean for days.
Almost as soon as the survivors of the Indianapolis were rescued, the cruiser's unfortunate captain, an Annapolis graduate named Charles Butler McVay III, was court-martialed for his alleged failure to practice evasive maneuvers in enemy waters. Eventually exonerated of all but one charge, McVay still could not escape blame for the ship's loss, and he killed himself in 1968. Richard Newcomb's Abandon Ship!, first published in 1958, brought McVay's sad case to the American public's attention with a vigorous you-are-there account that depicts the miscalculations--and willful misrepresentations--that condemned the Indianapolis. The case was recently reopened thanks to the efforts of McVay's family and a bright middle-school student who looked into the matter as a class project. As a result, the scapegoated captain's name has been cleared. In this edition, McVay's case is updated by the noted true-crime author Peter Maas, whose arguments in McVay's favor add to Newcomb's original findings. Superb as historical journalism, the book is also a fascinating document in the annals of military justice. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In the mid-1990s, 11-year-old Hunter Scott, working on a project for a state history fair at his Florida school, began delving into an old WWII naval tragedy he had learned about by chanceDthe destruction of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, which sank in only 12 minutes after being hit by a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine. Hundreds of sailors died. The navy blamed the ship's captain, Charles Butler McVay III, charging that he failed to issue a timely warning to abandon his fast-sinking ship. The beleaguered McVay became the only commander ever court-martialed by the U.S. Navy for losing his vessel in wartime; despondent for years afterward, he eventually killed himself. The story of the Indianapolis and of the subsequent punishment of McVay, was the subject of this 1958 book by Associated Press editor Richard F. Newcomb (Iwo Jima, etc.), which spent 18 weeks on bestseller lists. Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of Scott, additional information has emerged to shed light on the sad saga of the Indianapolis, explicated in a foreword and afterword to this reissue by investigative journalist Maas (Serpico). The result is an even more compelling look at this long-ago tragedy, one that could lead to the exoneration of McVay. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Forecast: Hunter Scott's sleuthing has received a lot of media attention, which will certainly be highlighted by Harper when the book is released. Young readers will be inspired by Scott's determination (though discretion should obviously be exercised regarding McVay's plight), and any reader interested in WWII will want a chance to weigh the evidence.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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It did not hurt the book nor the cause of the Indianapolis survivors that Hollywood later told the story in dramatic fashion. In the 1975 movie thriller "Jaws," the salty shark hunter Quint reveals to his crew during a late night bender that he himself was a survivor of the torpedo attack that forced 1100 American sailors into the tropical waters of the South Pacific. Typical of the bad luck that has dogged the Indianapolis for years, Quint's cinematic narrative is rife with errors: most of the sailors died of exposure, not shark attack; the Indianapolis had already completed its mission of delivering the atomic bomb to Tinian at the time of its demise; and the ungodly delay in rescue operations was not due to security concerns, as Quint believed, but rather to communications and operations snafus.
Newcomb's original account of the sinking of the Indianapolis is drama enough. The Indianapolis had completed the delivery of the two atomic bombs to the island of Tinian and was en route to Leyte for routine training when it was cut in half by two simultaneous suicide torpedo strikes launched from a Japanese submarine. The ship sank within fifteen minutes, but under existing naval policy, its failure to reach Leyte was not noted for five days, delaying the dispatch of search and rescue craft and causing hundreds of unnecessary deaths. Perhaps because of these operational flaws in its command structure, naval inquiry not surprisingly shifted attention to the twin questions of whether the commander had demonstrated negligence in not taking evasive actions and later in failing to issue an "abandon ship" command.
Newcomb, working with material then available, is unequivocal in his judgment that the Navy's sanctions against Commander Charles B. McVay and other officers were politically motivated and brutally unfair. It is hard to imagine that the U.S. Navy actually procured the commander of the Japanese submarine to testify against McVay. Newcomb suggests that the visibility of the ship's atomic mission, as well as the tragedy's proximity to V-J Day, may have been precipitating factors in these unusual disciplinary proceedings. He portrays McVay as a competent officer whose very conservatism would make him an unlikely candidate to veer from the standard operations book for unnecessary risk.
The injustice of the Indianapolis tragedy-the excessive loss of life and the misplacing of blame-emerged from time to time into the public consciousness for some years after the book's 1958 appearance. McVay, a stoic man, committed suicide in 1968. In the late 1990's investigative reporter Peter Maas stumbled upon the Indianapolis story while researching another naval tragedy. By this time Newcomb was retired in Florida, but Maas discovered that his book was revered by the 160 or so Indianapolis survivors still alive. In the reissue of this book in 2001, Maas adds both a new introduction and a lengthy chapter summarizing his own examination of declassified documents and a new congressional investigation that concluded in October 2000. He notes ruefully that even at this late date the Navy lobbied the Senate for a sanitized resolution that in essence exonerated both McVay and the Navy.
"Abandon Ship" is a gripping tale. Aside from the fact that Newcomb has [at times awkwardly] included the name, rank, and history of just about everyone on the ship, the story moves at a compelling clip. It is a tribute to the author's fairness that the reader is compelled to weigh conflicting evidence in the matter of weather conditions, available intelligence, and navigational options available to McVay. Maas, not surprisingly, reflects a more rough and tumble contemporary journalistic style than his genteel predecessor, but there are no ugly fault lines in the text. Neither investigator fully penetrates naval or congressional skullduggery, in 1958 or 2000, but both do their best to force some measure of public accountability. One cannot read the book today without thoughts of September 11, 2001. "Abandon Ship" is a sad reminder that not every national tragedy has been met with the equanimity that becomes America.
"Abandon Ship" makes no exception to this rule.
When Navy administrative system failed, Captain did not follow given recommendations and unpredictable change of visibility occurred, cruiser "Indianapolis" was torpedoed by Japanese submarine. All this happened 2 weeks before the end of the WWII on the Pacific and few days before the atomic blast destroyed Hiroshima. Ironically "Indianapolis" had just delivered uranium for the bomb to Tinian Island and was on its way to Leyte (Philippines).
It seems that fate was designed for unfortunate ship and its crew, making this sinking a greatest disaster at sea in the history of the USA. Moment of sinking and four days at the sea spent by survivors are presented vividly but with respect to those who died and suffered.
Book gets even more interesting when we read how Navy tried to find who possibly could be blamed for this tragedy and whom to punish. It looked that either many or just one person could have been accused and Navy officials chose the second, easier option. Unprecedented and controversial procedure took place during the investigation - very interesting and dramatic case indeed, that never had happened before.
Afterword by Peter Mass brings reader to year 2000 and sheds light on some unknown facts that have been revealed just recently. This makes the book even more fascinating.
of events in WW11. Was the neighbor of one of the young sailors that managed to
survive the unbelievable horror of the events of that fateful day. Sad to tell too what
happened to their captain that they all loved. A good read if you care about events of
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The book was written in 1958, and it has the best qualities of investigative...Read more
Actually, the sinking and the rescue of survivors are all finished before the book's half over.Read more